Male and Female Circumcision
An interesting issue of the journal Global Discourse, on Gender Equality in Abrahamic Circumcision: Why or Why Not?, edited by Ingvild Bergom Lunde and Matthew Thomas Johnson; here’s the Introduction, which summarizes the articles:
This issue emerges more than 40 years after the initiation of zero-tolerance global campaigns to end all forms of female genital cutting (FGC). The practice of cutting female genitalia without medical necessity is commonly referred to as ‘female genital cutting’, ‘female genital mutilation’ and/or ‘female circumcision’. Sometimes, the term ‘girl circumcision’ is used in order to make a distinction between the childhood and adulthood genital cutting of females. The practice is commonly categorised into four types by the World Health Organization: type I – cutting of the outer clitoris; type II – the partial or total removal of the outer clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora; type III/infibulation – narrowing the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal, with or without removal of the outer clitoris; and type IV – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. A body of research from a range of fields shows that in contemporary hegemonic public discourse, the acceptable way of talking about, interpreting and comprehending the practice is through a framework of condemnation (Hauge, 2012; Shell-Duncan et al, 2016; Hodzic, 2017; Lunde, 2020).
However, in 2018 and 2019, the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom in India released official statements insisting that they practise a form of female circumcision that is less invasive than male circumcision in order that girls be treated equally to circumcised boys. The statements further made it clear that the Bohra do not practise ‘female genital mutilation’—in fact, they condemn the practice (DBWRF, 2018; 2019). These statements highlight two central limitations in the global work to end FGC. First, there has been little to no differentiation between different forms of FGC. Indeed, it is the most invasive form—and likely the least common globally—that has received most attention in public discourse and among researchers and policymakers. Second, there are central, unresolved questions regarding the Global North’s acceptance of the medically unnecessary circumcision of boys, of which there is great variety in the practice, ranging from removing parts of or the entire foreskin of the penis to a cutting in the urinary tube from the scrotum to the glans.
Taking Richard Shweder’s (2022) article ‘The prosecution of Dawoodi Bohra women: some reasonable doubts’ as a target piece for discussion, the aim of this issue is to better understand these limitations. In the article, Shweder proposes that some forms of FGC be legalised, arguing that the form of FGC practised among Dawoodi Bohra Muslims is less invasive than the typical circumcision of boys and that FGC is a religiously meaningful ritual among the Bohra. This proposal implies that girls should have the same rights to cultural and/or religious identity as circumcised boys. It is a controversial proposal insofar as it directly challenges the central tenet of global campaigns to end FGC, such as Target 5.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal: girls can only be empowered by protecting them from being subjected to a fear-inducing and painful experience.
This issue examines both directions within the equivalence argument: the plausibility of the legalisation of FGC; and the possibility that boys require protection from forms of male genital cutting. This second possibility—of proposing an age limit or ban on male circumcision—is also controversial, particularly at a time in which there is growing concern about anti-Semitism a
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